Earth Day Visit to the Cathedral Forest along the Wells Memorial Trail at Monte Sano State Park

Earth Day (April 22, 2020) Judy and I (along with 12-year-old grandson Jack) hiked Sinks, Keith, and Wells Memorial Trails at Monte Sano State Park. Because we were continuing to deal with Covid-19 restrictions, Jack sat in the third-row SUV seat and all of us wore face masks while in the vehicle. On the trails we peeled our masks and maintained social distance. I’ve written and published several times on the Wells Memorial Trail…my favorite Monte Sano trail because of its special quality and rich cove site and cathedral forest. Here is my December 4, 2019 Wells Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

You’ll see below why I feel a sacred connection to the Wells Trail. I’m a softy for rich sites, towering hardwoods, and a throwback to old growth forest conditions. My doctoral research in the mid-eighties evaluated soil-site conditions in the ninety-or-so-year-old second-growth Allegheny hardwood forests of southwest New York and northwest Pennsylvania. That is, I related forest productivity to a suite of quantifiable soil and site factors, such as slope steepness, slope position, slope shape, aspect, and soil depth and texture. Now 470 miles south of my research area, some of the same site quality relationships hold. Here are a few that relate to the Wells site richness:

  • Concave slope shape
  • Lower slope position
  • Deep soil
  • Sheltered location

Let’s examine the photo evidence.

Cathedral Forest

 

I recall the little guy when he stood barley taller than knee-high; I no longer tower above him. He’ll reach taller than I soon enough. So much, including tree tops more than a hundred feet above us, to remind me of my relative insignificance in the sweep of time and the grandeur of place. Such a powerful lesson in humility… watching a grandchild pass so quickly from toddler to near-teenager, and standing together within a forest cathedral.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stroll through the forest… and race through time. I’ve often quoted Bernard Malamud (The Natural), “We have two lives… the life we learn with and the life we live after that.” I admit that I am in that second life. Though still learning, I am busy sorting, applying, and reflecting upon what I learned during those first six decades. Life seemed to be all-consuming when we were living the child-raising and career-advancing period. We focused on what lay ahead, each day taking us closer. Today, in this second life, now is what matters most. I tend more toward the brake and less on the gas pedal. Acceleration to what lies ahead is of no interest. I want to sit in the forest, inhale its essence, dream a bit, and marvel at its supreme beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

And who could not feel sacred connection to these towering yellow poplars? Sure, I’ve been to the redwood groves, the coastal Douglas fir Pacific Northwest rain forests, and stood shaken beneath Yosemite’s giant sequoias. Admittedly even our grandest eastern hardwood forests pale in comparison to those globally significant ancient forests. However, I’ve disciplined myself to partition those impressions, refusing to hold those exemplars as the scale against which I gauge forest appreciation.

I recall standing along the track during practice rounds for a pro-amateur track meet during my Penn State faculty days. I watched and listened as D-I university high-hurdlers blasted past, with heavy breathing, pounding footfalls, and heels tipping the hurdles. I then stood in awe as former world record holder for 110-meters Renaldo Nehemiah approached at full speed… silently and without apparent effort, floating over the hurdles, feet seeming not to hit the track surface. How could I ever enjoy another hurdles competition if I judged all against the super human Nehemiah?

Similarly, I consumed fresh world-renowned salmon and halibut often when we lived in Alaska. Upon returning to the lower 48, we did not eat domestic, non-Alaska salmon and halibut for a couple of years, our standards too discriminating. However, after a period of re-calibrating, I once more enjoy eastern USA salmon and halibut.

So it is with our eastern USA hardwood forests. I stand among the Wells Trail poplars and oaks, absorbing their magnificence, transported emotionally and spiritually, lifted to full appreciation and reverence. My connection is sacred. My soul soars. I thank god for Nature’s exquisite inspiration. I apply Teddy Roosevelt’s wisdom to appreciating Nature, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I accept what they are… their glory where they are… without holding them to a redwood or sequoia standard.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

These lofty sylvan citizens are right here at Monte Sano State Park, just 30 minutes from my home. The nearest redwoods, sequoia, and Douglas fir are a continent away.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I consider the Wells cathedral forest as transitioning into old growth status, yet I know these are second-growth forests. The wind-toppled hickory below blocked the trail within the past year. The trail crew cut through the trunk this past winter to reopen the path without diversion. I stopped to make a very rough ring count, difficult without a hand lens. Some squirrel buried the source hickory nut 150-200 years ago, a point in time when the General Sherman (a sequoia, the world’s largest living tree) was already 2,000 years old. Now that’s old!

Monte Sano

Wells Trail Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: I interrupt this Post with an Alert. I revisited Wells Trail May 12, 2020 and discovered yet another large hickory (three-foot diameter) uprooted, within 200 feet of the one above. This second individual stood just 15 feet off the trail. It has fallen since my prior visit, likely toppling with the high winds that passed through north Alabama just a week or so ago. It fell parallel (withing 10 degrees) of its predecessor. In fact, I wondered whether the huge canopy vacancy left by the other may have contributed, the void allowing this new victim to lean further in that direction absent the physical support of the first, surpassing a leverage threshold beyond which the roots could hold.

Monte Sano Wells TrailMonte Sano Wells Trail

 

 

 

 

As I’ve repeated time and time again, nothing in Nature is static. Now back to my Earth Day photos and reflections:

In the Wells stand, even chestnut oak, more commonly a scruffy ridge-top resident, grows fat, straight, and tall.

Monte Sano

 

But all along the Trail  is not towering trees. As I’ve commented often, I do not limit my discoveries to the regal few. Instead, I seek the unusual… the tree form oddities that catch my eye and stimulate my imagination. I offer a little sleuthing to explain the peculiar.

Tree Form Oddities

Sugar maple, the New England species of Maple syrup fame, persists into our north Alabama Appalachian forests, but not often as a main canopy occupant. I see it mostly as an understory component, occasionally reaching into the intermediate canopy. Such individuals aren’t younger trees newly developed in the forest shade. They are likely the same age as the dominant upper story poplars, oak, and hickories on Monte Sano. They are shade tolerant, persisting for decades in deep shade, awaiting some main canopy disturbance to afford greater sunlight and an opportunity to reach skyward. This gnarled, twisted, and tortured sapling will never reach toward the heavens. Perhaps a tree or large branch fell from above scarring this individual. The damage is clearly physical. Not a grave wound, just one that will mark it for life and limit its future.

Monte Sano

 

Imagine the yellow poplar below left with an adjacent twin perhaps two decades ago. Now picture the twin breaking away about two feet above ground from wind or an ice load. Due to its living union with the remaining twin, the stump’s distal side remained alive without benefit of its own canopy. It continues to grow, and in combination with the residual tree is callousing over the wound. Within the next decade, the surviving twin will have an oddly-seamed base, but will otherwise appear intact, the scar and damage hidden from view. Only the astute aware observer will read the external evidence to trace a history written in the foreign language of scar tissue. Similarly the two-foot diameter, calloused stump ring below right belies the reality of a long-broken-off yellow poplar individual. The stump remains alive courtesy of root union with the poplar three-feet out of view beyond the photo’s right margin. See the yellow poplar stump suckers on the left rim. Every thing in Nature tells a story to those who know the language of interpretation.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I slipped a leafed-twig of this redbud at the branch union to serve as tree identification. This gnarly burl evidences a somewhat benign infectious agent. I say “somewhat” because while the burl itself is not fatal, it is modifying structural strength and may ultimately lead to breakage at what I suppose is a point of weakness.

Monte Sano

 

This twin sugar maple has collected enough organic debris in the fork that three violet plants have sprouted. Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I discovered my first African mask along the Wells Trail. From the Artyfactory website, “African masks should be seen as part of a ceremonial costume. They are used in religious and social events to represent the spirits of ancestors or to control the good and evil forces in the community. They come to life, possessed by their spirit in the performance of the dance, and are enhanced by both the music and atmosphere of the occasion. Some combine human and animal features to unite man with his natural environment. This bond with nature is of great importance to the African and through the ages masks have always been used to express this relationship.” I already felt united with this natural environment… the union deepened and strengthened when I read the description. I am obsessed with (and possessed by) the spirit of the Wells cathedral forest.

Monte Sano

 

I can imagine that all of the Monte Sano burls contain elements of spirit-essence. I may return some dark night to witness whether “They come to life, possessed by their spirit in the performance of the dance, and are enhanced by both the music and atmosphere of the occasion.”

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I know I’ll not be visiting these woods on a snowy evening, yet I see some of the same level of mystery and even a touch of foreboding that Robert Frost hinted in his often-quoted poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923)

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy winds and downy flake.

The woods are lovely dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the two succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe are place-sensitive.
  2. Magnificence draws from a relative scale — the sequoia forest is not the standard for appreciating all forests.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Reward, and Heal you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts:  http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

Photos of Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

 

Cloud Verse

I’ve published more than 200 Posts in these pages over the past three years. I use a format of photos, reflections, and lessons drawn from places visited in Nature’s realm… here locally and even internationally. Seldom have I ventured beyond simple prose. But now I’ve completed a poetry writing class at the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. I love words, especially words employed to speak of Nature-Inspired Life and Living. So, I’m tentatively and with no small measure of trepidation attempting some verse and free-form!

Clouds

I love clouds. See two previous Posts highlighting my infatuation with them:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/10/17/the-tumbling-mirth-of-sun-split-clouds-sky-gazing-on-a-12-day-national-parks-journey/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/11/07/cheaha-state-park-mid-october-skies-and-clouds/

Normally I build explanatory and reflective text around my embedded photos. I don’t believe that it’s necessary for me to explain, describe, date, or give location for these images that I’ve included in previous Posts. Use your imagination… construct your own story.

Yellowstone

Nature’s Cloud Inspiration

 

We’ll go with that as the poem’s title. I love the scientific names for clouds, using them liberally without definition in my verse. The words alone capture the spirit of my love affair with our vibrant atmosphere. And here’s my poem:

 

Firmament… a thin layer of heavenly gases

enveloping and sustaining life on Earth

 

Twenty miles up (or out) noctilucent clouds,

ice crystals at the edge of darkness and space

 

Closer to home, judgement day apocalyptic,

undulatus aspiratus portending doom

 

Towering power and fury, cumulonimbus,

of deluge, hail, gale, and lightning stabs

 

Mare’s tale white-feather brush strokes,

cirrus across deep blue fairness

 

Foggy obscurity lifting from terra firma,

stratus detail-mush, gray nothingness

 

Stratus with precipitation merits a moniker

to its own – nimbostratus offers rain and snow

 

White puffs of fair weather and smooth sailing,

cumulus cotton balls cruising the cerulean sea

 

And my favorite crowning lofty mountain peaks

is the lenticular, space-ship lenses, still-life beauties

 

Full-day azure over the barren desert

cloudless emptiness; beauty-less; hopeless

 

Give me the cloud menagerie of suspended droplets,

salving my eyes; soothing my soul

 

A forester, I love trees… have for life

but try growing a cloudless tree

 

Poems are made by fools like me

But only clouds can grow a tree

 

 

Clouds and Sky Inspiration

Approaching Derecho

Rapid City

Steve Jones at Mount Washington

Clouds and Trees

 

Poems are made by fools like me

But only clouds can grow a tree

 

 

 

 

A forester, I love trees… have for life

but try growing a cloudless tree

 

Poems are made by fools like me

But only clouds can grow a tree

 

McDowell

 

Lake Guntersville SP

 

Joyce Kilmer captured the essence of trees and poetry:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
I’ll continue toying with the idea of employing verse to translate Nature’ beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. Perhaps through the vehicle of poetic expression I can better capture the joy and inspiration that is Nature. For the moment, I’m enjoying the idea of shifting gears now and again from my standard writing in sentences and paragraphs held rigidly to the constraints of grammar and conformity.

Poems are made by fools like me

But only clouds can grow a tree

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Photos of Steve

 

I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned. Knowing that I am getting way out in front of remote possibility, perhaps there is a book of Steve’s Nature-Inspired Life and Living Poetry awaiting me around the corner of some forested trail!

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

 

Examining a 70-Year Journey at Alabama’s Camp McDowell

I went back to McDowell January 20-24, 2020 to begin serious field work for developing McDowell’s Land Legacy Story — the Natural History corollary to existing books and essays on the facility’s Human History. Founders bought the first Camp parcels in 1946 and initiated Camp programming in 1948. I offer this brief Blog Post as a teaser for what lies ahead. I know the property’s Nature quite well at this 2020 point in time. We are discovering and examining the photographic record to document Camp McDowell’s Nature Tale across time. We’ll enter this Post via the Camp entrance. January 2020, forest rises beyond the sign, a nice setting on a stunning day.

 

Here’s the entrance in 1948, a photo presented to me just last week. When I next visit I will attempt to photograph today’s sign at the exact same angle, capturing the road headed north and the forest. I’ll examine today’s trees to determine whether the couple of individual trees in the 1948 near-view are among those standing tall today. If so, we’ll have a then-and-now for specific trees. If not, we’ll have a then-and-now for the forest. I will recommend to the Camp establishing a permanent photo-point to retake the image every 5-10 years to track development.

 

Camp McDowell

 

Trees Adorning Main Camp

Camp McDowell completed its first (and still standing) Chapel in 1953 (under final construction below). My hope upon finding this photo was that we could identify multiple trees still standing from this and many other 65-70-year-old images. For the most part, no, the trees in the old photos are gone, leaving only a few decaying stumps. We looked hard at this photo, finally identifying two trees surviving the decades. Without the aid of an arrow I will draw your attention to the two. First, dead center below are three trees, two prominent with dark bark in the foreground. They are now gone. Standing beyond them is a lighter-barked, more slender individual, notably straight and reaching above the photo’s top margin. That is tree number one, a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda).

The second tree is the smaller of the two trees some 80 percent of the distance from the photo’s left margin. The taller tree is gone. The smaller, a hickory (Carya sp) not much taller than the Chapel roof, still lives.

Camp McDowell

 

We’ll move ahead to 1961, when only those two trees remain.

Camp McDowell

 

Fifty-nine years later, they both tower above the Chapel. Yet, all is not well. Note that the pine bears dead needles. Tragically, the tree died this past summer.

Camp McDowell

 

Too bad that we have lost a proud sentinel from the Camp’s origin. Yet all is not lost from posterity. Camp staff will remove the tree before gravity introduces it to the Chapel roof. They will cut several two-inch thick cookies from near the base. They’ll sand and surface the cookies, preserving a tree-ring history of this Chapel witness-tree. We’ll mark rings dating significant events in McDowell’s history. I will encourage staff to prepare a planting spot for this lob’s successor. I want to envision the successor pine standing tall in 2090!

Camp McDowell

 

The Right Reverend C.C.J. Carpenter, then Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, appointed the Reverend B Scott Eppes to build and lead Camp McDowell in 1946. He served in that capacity until his retirement in 1978.  Reverend Eppes wrote an undated History of Camp McDowell around that same time. He wrote, The warden made a visit to Athens, Georgia in February 1949, to perform the marriage of his niece. Coming home to Birmingham, he took a long way by Blairsville, Georgia. In those mountains from the sides of the road he pulled up many small white pines…. Placed in a garbage can filled with wet sawdust, they kept well and were planted at McDowell the next day. About 25 were transplanted; most of them lived. Today they are among the tallest trees on the property. One of the 70-year-old white pines (Pinus strobus) leans below against retired Camp Director, The Reverend Mark Johnston. What a great chapter in McDowell’s Natural History, which as we all know exists interdependently with its Human History.

Camp McDowell

 

That’s the Chapel’s brownish-red roof beyond Mark and the white pine at the base of the slope. So far as we could determine, most trees that covered the hillside when the white pine seedling enjoyed its first taste of Alabama soil are now gone.

Tree Action in the Forest

I’ve often observed in these GBH musings that nothing in Nature is static. Trees sprout, grow, and die. In what appears to be a mature forest (below left) a main canopy red oak reaches with its stark skeleton crown high above the forest floor. Death likely caught up to it 2-3 years ago. Gravity, insects, and microorganisms will soon assure that it reunites with the forest floor and soil. The lateral view gives little indication of the effects of its dying on the remaining forest. Vertically (below right) the result is apparent. A large hole in the canopy will encourage remaining trees to exploit the void. Sunlight reaching the forest floor will allow new vegetation to flourish. This is yet another of the stories we hope to tell. Wouldn’t it have been nice if managers 70 years ago had by chance established a permanent photo point to watch the then young oak complete its life cycle!

Camp McDowellCamp McDowell

 

Clear Creek at Camp McDowell

Although my passion and expertise lie in the forest and its associated life, I have always found fascination in weather, climate, and hydrology. Try growing a forest without clouds and water. I photographed the McDowell dam in January (below left). The peaceful impoundment with its placid waters belie the stream’s occasional alter ego.  Note that same pipe (below right) protruding above the roiling floodwaters in 1973.  Nothing in Nature is static. Ferocity lies just one deluge beyond tranquility. It is Nature’s way. These are the stories that compose the massive volume that is environmental education on McDowell’s 1,138 acres.

Camp McDowell

Camp McDowell

 

Clear Creek is a permanent (for our purposes) landscape feature at McDowell. Yet not a drop of its flow persists beyond the day. Instead, for 70 years the stream has flowed steadily past McDowell toward the Gulf of Mexico. I draw parallel to the flow of campers. The young people that first camp season would now be in their 80s, flowing on in time and place. Nothing in Nature is static.

 

Environmental Center Mission

McDowell’s Environmental Education Center Mission may actually remain static: To connect people to their environment, teach respect for the Earth and its beings, and to promote a commitment to lifelong learning. Add in a strong touch of faith, service, and humanity and the message is relevant for the ages. My purpose, in part, is to tell McDowell’s Land Legacy Tale in a manner that tracks fidelity to the mission through the ages. And what better symbol of that mission than the Camp’s new St. Francis Chapel and its surroundings. The Chapel offers many opportunities for photo-tracking its natural setting over time. Few who see it today will be available to tell its environmental story in 2090. Where I stood to snap this shot, I contend, will suit the 5-10-year permanent photo record.

Camp McDowell

 

Every parcel of land has its own story of human and natural history. The two are often interwoven. Camp McDowell’s history began in 1946. Its human history began when native peoples crossed the Bering land bridge and migrated several thousand miles to this Eden along Clear Creek. I’ll track McDowell’s natural history from 1946 and offer speculation for the years of European settlement before then.

I am grateful for the chance to collaborate with staff at McDowell to develop this Land Legacy Tale. The project affords me the chance in retirement to re-engage with my forestry roots and to stimulate my lifelong passion for Nature. Watch for more in these Posts as the story unfolds.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books, Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Every parcel of wildland tells a story; human and natural history interwoven
  2. Knowing the story enriches environmental education and elevates understanding
  3. Understanding Nature inspires and motivates responsible and informed Earth stewardship

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned!

McDowell

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Back to Camp McDowell

I returned to Camp McDowell and Conference Center December 19-20, 2019 following a year’s absence and two prior Posts:

  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2018/11/27/mid-november-camp-mcdowell-land-legacy-orientation/
  • http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/01/08/mid-november-skies-at-camp-mcdowell/

On the recent December trip I focused on completing plans for conducting a comprehensive Land Legacy Story for McDowell. Published books and internal documents already chronicle the Human History of the Camp since its 1946 establishment. My volunteer project will develop and publish the corresponding Natural History for the Camp’s 1,138 acres. My purpose with this Post, in large part and in full disclosure, is to help me gather my thoughts for the full-blown data-gathering and story-drafting that I will undertake beginning in mid-January.

McDowell

 

The McDowell Environmental Education Center Mission guides and informs this project: To connect people to their environment, teach respect for the Earth and its beings, and to promote a commitment to lifelong learning. I will prepare the Land Legacy Story to meet the objectives of and beyond the Environmental Education Center… for the Camp, Farm School, Folk School, and Conference Center. Environmental education and our relationship to our Earth home is critical to all Earth citizens and their obligation to be informed and responsible Earth stewards.

McDowell sits within the southern third of the 181,230-acre (283 square mile) Bankhead National Forest. The Forest Service focuses on longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) in that southern third. The Camp has longleaf (below), along with loblolly (Pinus taeda), Virginia (Pinus virginiana), and shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) across the property. Among the pines, loblolly predominates. I’ll describe the species composition and forest types across the property, and discuss the relevant land use history for each parcel assembled to constitute the current mosaic.

McDowellMcDowell

 

All water bodies at McDowell, excepting the free-flowing springs, creeks, and stream, are man made, including Sloan Lake (below).

McDowell

 

I can’t help but include some human reflections in the Land Legacy tale. I photographed this metal sign looking out through a window somewhere at McDowell. Judy and I adopted our comparable Bloom Where You Are Planted philosophy years ago, taking it along as we made 13 interstate moves over our nearly 48 years sharing our lives. The Camp is clearly growing where the Episcopalian Diocese planted it in 1946. Did it work because the founders selected the right spot… or are McDowell’s mission and purpose so powerful and timeless that the Camp would have flourished in almost any location in Alabama? I’ll explore that question with the Land Legacy Story.

McDowell

 

Relic hardwoods link the human and natural histories at McDowell. I’ll attempt to discover and explain how these old specimens made their start and survived the decades, and speculate on their fate. I often observed, wouldn’t it have been nice if we had a series of photos showing every ten years since property acquisition how these special individuals have grown and changed? We cannot reach back in time to establish such permanent photo points, yet we can do it now.

McDowellMcDowell

 

Whether we are examining those stalwart hardwood sentinels or the young pine stand (below left), we can and should chronicle what lies ahead. Everything will change over time; nothing in Nature (or in human life) is static. The same holds true for the pond and its life.

McDowellMcDowell

 

The Camp began in 1946 when the Diocese acquired the first 160 acres from the Summers family. The total Camp now comprises some 25 individual parcels, the most recent 40 acres purchased in 2009. The sign below denotes an internal line separating parcels within the Camp. I intend to examine the individual units for evidence of differential land use history and how that might be expressed by the present forest.

McDowell

 

Tree Form Oddities

And then there are the curiosities of tree form oddities. Some have their own stories to tell. This one one bears closer inspection! They are all part of the tale.

McDowell

 

This oddity on a big leaf magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) resembles an elephant seal. I view tree form oddities as opportunities for explanation, story telling, and fun in environmental education. I want to identify all that I can; mark their location; and include them as permanent photo points. I will implore Camp staff to continue adding to the inventory of on-site oddities and curiosities.

McDowell

 

I never tire of seeing sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) with its propensity to defy gravity… to grow any way but vertically. They twist and turn, navigating their chosen course to find sufficient light to thrive in the canopy mid-story. Let the oak, pine, and poplars battle for for the upper canopy. Sourwood is content doing things its own way, getting what sunlight it needs, a sylvan minimalist if you will. Sourwood epitomizes the Rolling Stones philosophy: You Can’t Always Get What You Want… But You Just Might Get What You Need! Mid-story oaks, pines, and poplars suffer a shortened life; sourwood thrives.

McDowell

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are the three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Every wildland property has a story to tell… rich elements at the intersection of human and natural history
  2. Memorializing the story amplifies the strength of the property’s lessons for Nature-Inspired Life and Living
  3. Camp McDowell, and other such institutions, can change the world by effectively promoting informed and responsible Earth stewardship

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few others lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksMcDowell

 

I like to imagine that representative samples of my books appreciate accompanying me into the woods. So far, none has complained nor groaned!

Photos of Steve

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

A Sacred Natural Setting at Cullman, Alabama’s Ave Maria Grotto

December 27, 2019 Judy and I visited Ave Maria Grotto, St. Bernard Abbey, Cullman, Alabama, just 55 miles from where we live. The self-guided tour brochure describes this attraction: The Ave Maria Grotto is located on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, the only Benedictine monastery of men in the State of Alabama. The Abbey was founded in 1891. The Grotto consists of a landscaped hillside of 125 small stone and cement structures, the handiwork of the creative genius, Brother Joseph Zoetle, O.S.B., a monk of the Abbey for almost 70 years.

My purpose is not to describe the Grotto, cover its history, or walk you through the exhibits. All of that is available online at: http://www.avemariagrotto.com/

Instead, I will focus on the interplay of Spirit and Nature. As we toured the Grotto, I pondered the extent to which the magnificent natural setting enhanced the spiritual essence of the place. I will address that intersection of Nature and Spirit… the sacred connection I felt with Nature as I enjoyed, contemplated, and felt lift from the Grotto. The Grotto monument below welcomes visitors. Imagine the monument without its forest backdrop of loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) reaching 80+ feet toward the heavens. They would have been seedlings at best when Brother Joseph began his labors in 1912, more than a century ago.

Natural Spirituality

 

Below are two views of the actual Grotto, the created cave-like structure that is the central element of Brother Joseph’s remarkable work. Magnificent in and of itself, the Grotto becomes part of something larger when the photo point recedes, allowing the forest setting to emerge, which through my personal and professional lens magnifies the spiritual essence. Another powerful element of context is that Brother Joseph chose the Abbey’s abandoned quarry as the site for his life’s work. The Grotto and its forest grew in the ruins of a depleted stone quarry. So much about the Grotto and its story serves to inspire and humble.

Spirituality in Nature

Spirituality in Nature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The forest setting enriches every built feature. I wondered whether Brother Joseph even imagined the future forest when he placed his first miniature replica, a replica of some internationally significant religious building. How fully had the forest developed when Brother Joseph died in 1961, nearly 60 years ago? Like so many places I’ve visited in Alabama, regionally, nationally, and even internationally, the Grotto tells a story of intimately interconnected Human and Natural History.

Spirituality in Nature

 

Resonance with Victoria’s Butchart Gardens

One of my favorite Earth-places I’ve had the pleasure to visit is The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. Butchart, too, is a former quarry, transformed through the wisdom, knowledge, dream, and hard work by a truly visionary soul. From the Butchart website: With a former quarry as a canvas, Jennie Butchart envisioned transforming this space into a beautiful garden haven, overflowing with lush greens and colourful blooms. The result of her vision is The Gardens, which are still family run to this day. Ironically, the quarry ceased operations in 1912. Jennie, like Brother Joseph, began her work that same year. Was there some resonance in their work? Both places today are spiritual to me — The Grotto strongly religious; Butchart secularly magnificent. Both inspire and humble! I felt a scared connection to both.

Spirituality in Nature

Spirituality in Nature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera, below left) towers over the replicas, amplifying the sense of forest grandeur. Brother Joseph worked in full sunlight — no forest shade to shelter him from summer’s swelter. Hard to see the gentle forest scene (below right) as an abandoned quarry.

Spirituality in Nature

 

Sacred Connections

Large loblolly pines accent the displays (below). The one below right may actually touch the lower levels of heaven!

Spirituality in Nature

 

Judy and I found magic in this loblolly’s algae-encrusted bark furrows. Life abounds throughout the Grotto. I would have enjoyed the short hike even without the replicas! The Grotto celebrates many centuries of spiritual life and human history. Those stories, through my own forestry and applied ecology filters, are powerfully elevated by the forest setting. I remind you, as does the Grotto, that we are not separate from Nature but are inextricably linked with the natural world. If the power of Brother Joseph’s creation is 100 and the natural setting power is 100, the combination is 1,000, an order of magnitude greater than either one alone.

Spirituality in NatureSpirituality in Nature

 

The Abbey cemetery and its chapel sit adjacent to the Grotto. Again, the surrounding forest adds incalculably to the sacred impact. I suppose the forest inescapably shapes my perception. I am addicted to Nature as a sacred force. I cannot (or will not) see the cemetery in isolation, separate from its forest. The chapel is a place of simple beauty, as is the view south toward the Grotto (below right).

Spirituality in Nature

 

This ancient oak stands along the eastern edge of the cemetery. It likely watched Brother Joseph as he labored within and beside the quarry… not from its present grand stature but as a smaller and younger version of itself.

Spirituality in Nature

 

I’ll close with another look at the lofty loblolly giants. I gaze skyward with an absolute sense of humility and inspiration. Nature, accented by the special works of man, reminds me of my own fallibility and insignificance. And deepens my gratitude for this pale blue orb on which we are blessed to live. And such perspective strengthens my resolve to spread the message and encourage informed and responsible Earth stewardship.

Spirituality in Nature

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; with co-author Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. All three are available on Amazon and other online sources.

Here are three succinct truths I draw from this Blog Post:

  1. Nature invites (perhaps implores) sacred connections… human to Land and Life
  2. Add the dimension of secular or religious spirituality… and the bond is unbreakable, permanent, and irrevocable
  3. The bond begins with special places and extends to our essential relationship with Earth, from us as individuals to all of humanity

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Humble, Inspire and Reward you!

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future
  • I find my own sacred connections to Nature
  • My Earth-Bond is unbreakable, permanent, and irrevocable

 

Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits

Three Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.